Summer is coming and temperatures are rising and may become unbearable, especially for these employees working outdoors / performing manual labour.
Too much warmth can affect employees and can cause exhaustion, headache, fainting, or dehydration. Therefore the impact on employees’ health can be significant.
From a French employment law perspective, employers have a very general and broad obligation to take any measures necessary to ensure their employees’ health and safety at work, at any time. They are also required to adapt these measures to take into account any major circumstance, particularly heatwaves.
Employers must first take prevention measures, to anticipate the consequences of a heatwave on their workers and limit the wrongful consequences thereof:
- Risk assessment: employers are required to implement an annual risk assessment shall factor the risks incurred by heatwaves, to prevent associated risks;
- Checking of work premises: employers must ensure that the ventilation of premises is working effectively and is compliant with regulations;
- Adaptation of outdoor workstations: employers must also pay specific attention to employees working outdoors and protect them from climatic conditions (shelters, shadow areas, etc.).
It may also be advisable to discuss the situation with the occupational health services, to obtain their recommendations.
Generally speaking, and even more during heatwaves, employers are required to place fresh and clean water at the employees’ disposal, near the workstations.
The following recommendations also apply (and they are not exhaustive):
- Inform employees of the risks incurred by heatwaves, of the appropriate prevention measures and of the symptoms of a heatstroke (this information may be prepared in cooperation with the occupational health services);
- Monitor the temperature within the work premises;
- Adapt working schedules (e.g. start working earlier, taking additional breaks);
- Place protective devices (fans, misters, external blinds, etc.) at the employees’ disposal.
These recommendations may seem simply to constitute common sense, but they may be difficult to apply to specific categories of workers. Nevertheless, breach by the employers of their obligations may trigger significant risks of claims in the event of work accidents. In addition, if no specific corrective measure is taken, employees are entitled to leave the work premises on the basis that they are exposed to a serious and imminent danger.